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Protecting the vote

Attorney General seeks to force Texas to ‘preclear’ voting changes

George Curry | 8/2/2013, 3:31 a.m.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder takes aim at Texas voter laws. Sharon Farmer

PHILADELPHIA – Fulfilling a pledge to aggressively protect the voting rights of people of color in the wake of the Supreme Court striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has announced that the Justice Department will sue the state of Texas to compel it to preclear any planned changes in its voting procedures before they can go into effect.

In Shelby County v. Holder, a sharply divided Supreme Court gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the part of the law that describes the formula to be used to determine which states or political subdivisions are subjected to preclearance requirements. President Obama has stated that his administration will press Congress for new legislation that will override the court’s decision that weakens the landmark legislation.

Holder called the court’s 5-4 vote “a deeply disappointing – and flawed –

decision.”

Speaking at the National Urban League’s annual convention here last Thursday, Holder said, “And today I am announcing that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the state of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This request to ‘bail in’ the state – and require it to obtain ‘pre-approval’ from either the department or a federal court before implementing future voting changes – is available under the Voting Rights Act when intentional voting discrimination is found. Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder – as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized – we believe that the state of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”

In its Shelby County v. Holder ruling last month, the Supreme Court struck down the requirement that nine states, most of them in the Deep South, and portions of others to obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing election procedures.

Under the Voting Rights Act, states can “bail out” of the preclearance provision if they can prove that they have not discriminated against disadvantaged groups in a decade. Under the rarely used Section 3(c) of the law, which was not overturned by the court, states not previously covered by the Voting Rights Act can be added or bailed in if it is proven that they are discriminating on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Within two hours after the Supreme Court ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that he will restore a controversial voter ID requirement that was frozen by the Justice Department. Under the provision, student IDs are not accepted to verify the identities of voters, but gun registration is an accepted document.

Abbott, who is running for governor next year to succeed outgoing Rick Perry, also announced that the state will implement a controversial redistricting plan that dilutes Black and Latino political clout.